“I was born a poor black child.” That line always made me laugh when I heard Steve Martin say it on his LP “Let’s Get Small”. (I’ll explain what an LP is later, kids, if you care.) He was such a WASPy guy (especially, for some odd reason, with his prematurely white hair.)
But I would think the line would some incongruous coming from the lips of Hannah Pool as well, the author of the memoir, "My Father's Daughter: A Story of Family and Belonging". Sure, she is black. But she is also British with the accompanying accent and she is a 30ish year old columnist for The Guardian. Her position of privilege makes the “poor” part of the phrase seem unlikely.
But when was born to a poor family (by our standards) in the
African nation of Eritrea. She was put in an orphanage and it was there that a British academic and his American wife adopted her. Her adopted parents were told that the girl they named Hannah was an orphan. But decades later, Hannah Pool received a letter from a brother in Eritrea. It was then she discovered she
was not an orphan. Though her mother had died in child birth, her father was still alive and anxious to see her again.
The book is the story of Pool’s fascinating journey to meet and get to know the family she never knew she had.
Pool’s skills as a journalist serve the story well as a Travel Log, introducing the reader to this small African nation with great beauty but that still suffers from a history of colonialism, poverty and war. She brings an interesting perspective on the nation’s customs, a liberated woman in a place
where women are expected to be demure and marriages are usually still arranged.
But the most interesting dynamic in the book is her interaction with her new found family. One of the great questions of her life is ‘Why was she put in an orphanage?’ As she learns parts of the answer to that question, she finds herself jealous of those who were able to stay with their father. But she realizes that her brothers and sisters may well be jealous of the advantages
she has as growing up with the riches of the Western world.
Pool, an atheist, is uncomfortable with the constant praise and thanksgiving her family make to God for their reunion with her. She probably wouldn’t be thrilled when I say that her book reminds of the longing every person that has ever lived has felt without a relationship with the Living God.
Romans 8:23 says, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We all feel the need for more, for a parent that not only accepts us, but can fully understand us. God not only wants to
adopt us, make us His own, but His knowledge of us is even more complete than any Earthly parent (by blood or law.)
Another book that demonstrates from a theological standpoint the longing for a true Father is Timothy Keller’s “The Prodigal God”, an expansion on Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son’ that makes clear that we are all needy children with a Father anxious for a reunion with us.
(“My Father’s Daughter” by Hannah Pool is available from Penguin Books. “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller is available from Dutton Adult. And you can see Steve Martin with his adoptive African American in the 1979 film “The Jerk” which is justly rated R.)